Paul Osuyi, Asaba

Communities in Delta State are adjusting fast to the global reality of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Some of them have equally activated their alert mode to ensure that residents stay safe and do not contract the deadly virus.

Apart from deliberately putting in place safety measures, residents now treat returnees to the communities with measured suspicion. The suspicious treatment is even worse if the returnee is from of the high-risk foreign countries. Countries most cited include China, Italy, Spain, the United States, Britain and Canada. They backed up their action with a recent broadcast by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa that returnees from high-risk foreign countries should embark on self-isolation for 14 days to avoid spreading the disease with ease, should they be carriers.

However, a drama played out in Okpanam, Oshimili North Local Government Area, where a London returnee, Emeka (other names withheld),  allegedly mingled with his kith and kin unfettered and without caution. Emeka who pays regular visits to Nigeria, was going about socialising with people without qualms as usual.

Concerned elders in the community became extremely uncomfortable with the development. A resident, Thomas (surname withheld), told Daily Sun:  “Some elders expressed concerns with the way Emeka was moving about mingling with people without observing the known rules of social distancing, regular hand wash with soap and water or application of alcohol-based sanitizer.

“They were worried that, since he was coming from London, where the virus has infected many people, he could easily spread it to the people in Okpanam, if he were a carrier. The people were very conscious that, if the disease should come to the state, it should not be from Okpanam. It will not be a good reputation for the town, which shares common boundary with Asaba, the state capital.

“If somebody from Okpanam contracts the disease, it would not take long for it to enter Asaba because most civil servants come to work from Okpanam. It would easily spread across the state like a wildfire.”

He said some concerned residents reported the matter to the surveillance officers of the Emergency Operation Committee on COVID-19. They wanted the committee to take necessary action on Emeka, who returned to Nigeria on March 23, 2020.

However, rather than heed the advice of the committee to embark on self-isolation for 14 days, Thomas said: “He resisted the committee, thinking that the situation was like his previous visits when people always flocked around him. It was at that point that the police were invited. He was subsequently apprehended and taken to Okpanam Police Station for interrogation.”

Commissioner for Health, Dr. Mordi Ononye, confirmed the incident. He said the surveillance officers who acted on information of a returnee from London that failed to self-isolate in line with government directives were assaulted by the returnee.

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He said members of the Okpanam community had reported of a case of a recent returnee from London who did not self-isolate, adding that the state officials who promptly responded by visiting him were assaulted.

The commissioner stated that the returnee, who later apologised for his action, said he was angry because he was being “treated as a leper” since his return from London, adding that his rudeness to COVID-19 surveillance officers was a transfer of aggression.

He said the returnee had since been escorted home where he was in self-isolation under the watchful eyes of security personnel, and would be monitored daily by the team until the mandatory self-isolation period was completed.

Also, Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu, said self-isolation for returnees from foreign countries and even Lagos and Abuja was not negotiable: “We are determined to keep the virus at bay.

“It is very important to observe the preventive measures to avoid the global scourge. It will spread very fast, should any case be detected. There is the urgent need to remain safe.”

A relation of the returnee and the Omu Anioma, Obi Martha Dunkwu, tendered an unreserved apology to government and all those offended and touched by the action of her cousin. She described Emeka’s action as untoward: “The people of Okpanam and all people of goodwill were pained by the attitude. I was not even aware he was in town. I have been careful not to comment because my jurisdiction is women, the markets and Nze Omu Ancestral Shrine.

“However, the person in question is my cousin and I am the Queen Mother of Okpanam and Anioma nation. It places certain responsibility on my humble person. I urge and appeal to all of you to find a space in your hearts to forgive him and let us move our people forward courageously in good health, peace and more progress.

“The governor is our leader, son and brother from Anioma nation. It is unwise for any Anioma son or daughter to bring his government to disrepute while he is doing everything humanly possible to take our state to the Promised Land.

“My sincere apologies on behalf of myself, my cousin Emeka, and the good people of Okpanam who brought it to the attention of government in the first place.”